This image is a digital composition of archive photos from many satellites that orbit the Earth. Specifically, daytime images were taken by MODIS, an instrument on the NASA Terra satellite, while nighttime images were taken by DMSP satellites.
This image is very different from what an astronaut would see, for example, because of the total absence of clouds and the unreal exaggeration of lights and contrasts. The image has become a success on the Internet because it circulates attached to e-mails becoming a modern urban legend. The reason for the popularity of the image is very simple: It is a spectacular image, and we really like spectacular photos.
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